Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Cardinals at the Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA - 02/21/09

As a huge music fan, I probably don't need to tell you that the hours leading up to seeing a favorite band or artist live often fills me with nervous anticipation. In life, I am never more impatient than the minutes that seem like hours between an opening act I hardly care about and the headliner that is about to melt off my face.

As a huge Ryan Adams fan, I probably need to tell you that, leading up to seeing him, my (good) nervous anticipation of seeing an other-worldly performance is often superseded by my (bad) nervous anticipation of seeing a well-publicized and, unfortunately, far-too-frequent Ryan Adams meltdown that will cause me to leave the venue poorer in the wallet and poorer in my profound admiration for him as a songwriter and performer.

I've seen Ryan and his band, the Cardinals, on two occasions. The first was back in 2005 right before the ever-prolific Adams released his trio of brilliant discs, Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights, and 29. He went on stage absurdly late and then insisted on carrying on conversations with heckling audience members and constantly complaining about the lights. Even his sound man, whom we were standing next to, was commenting aloud about his behavior. The band actually played really well that night, and despite Adams' frequent distractions, he didn't have a spazz out. However, because he went on so late (on a Tuesday, I might add), it meant that he didn't finish out his set until well after 1:00 AM, which resulted in a number of audience members, including yours truly, to miss the end of the set.

The next time was in 2007 and, despite feeling very under-the-weather, the temperamental and tempestuous Adams managed to pull together another excellent-sounding show. The only bite of the night came afterwards. I'm admittedly a giant nerd and, at any given time, I have this mental list of five artists I'd like to meet. Ryan is definitely and forever on that list. So, after the show, we waited around outside the bus with a few other people wanting to say hi to him. We actually ended up carrying on a lengthy conversation with Ryan's tour manager who assured us that Ryan would be out of the bus shortly and would say hi. Over an hour went by and the tour manager left us an emerged from the bus with Ryan and the two walked right past our small group without saying a word.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those entitled fans who feels like every artist owes it to their fans to bend over backwards for them. These people are human too and entitled to their bad moods, off nights, etc. It's just that it would have been nice to glad-hand for five minutes. This experience did not diminish the performance at all and, honestly, I ended up far more ripshit at the tour manager (who knew we were waiting and then ignored us) than anyone else, but to say it didn't slightly dampen the experience at all would be disingenuous.

My Ryan live experiences have been walks in the park compared to others. He always seemed to have this volatility that meant that you were either going to see a fun, raucous, affable Adams or a pissy, sloppy, antagonistic Adams who was the slightest incendiary spark, caused by slightly out of tune guitar, lights that are too bright, or a heckler demanding to hear "Summer of '69", away from him leaving the stage in a huff and the house lights coming on.

This past year, Ryan and the Cardinals released Cardinology, a very solid offering that showcases his expert and flexible songwriting in the genres of alt-country, beautiful ballads, and bratty pop. When the tour to support the disc was announced, I felt like pressing my luck (I was due for a bad show), but Ticketmaster's crappy seat selection prevented me from pulling the trigger on getting tickets. I resigned myself to not seeing Ryan this time around and, considering my last experience was a good one (with great seats, I might add), I was OK with that.

In the meantime, Adams posted a rambling, self-pitying entry on his blog effectively announcing his retirement from music at the end of the tour for a variety of reasons: he's losing his hearing at a dangerously rapid pace, he's tired of being viewed as a "joke", he doesn't want to hold back his ever-talented band, and he wants to focus on a book writing career. The post has since been removed, but questions about Adams' sincerity about all that still linger. Adams is an enigma from head to toe. And no one quite knows what's up with him.

According to some press, Adams has apparently gotten clean and sober and, since the blog posting, has gotten engaged to cutie Mandy Moore (yes, THAT Mandy Moore), so the possibility of him pulling himself together increased. When tickets to the sold out show became available late last week, I swallowed hard, dropped $43/per, and prayed we were going to see a good show. Besides, he can be a big asshole sometimes, but damn, Sam, he's one hell of songwriter.

If you've made it this far in this post, congratulations, because the review is about to start.

We arrived at the venue about 20 minutes before the 8:00 start time to notice the marquee advertise "The Cardinals". Odd, since most of the time, the collective band is referred to as "Ryan Adams & The Cardinals", but I didn't really care how they were advertised, as long as they kicked ass. I had my reservations, but was cautiously optimistic.

We settled into our seats (about 13 rows from the stage) and saw the stage set-up, including two fluorescent lights in the shape of the rose from the Cold Roses album surrounding a huge, truly bombastic and hilarious replica of the image of the cover of Cardinology. It could have been made out of cardboard or tin or whatever, but it was overtly heavy metal (as were the concert shirts with lettering using the Iron Maiden font) and something you would expect to see on Judas Priest's stage. It was perfect.

Around 8:30, the lights went down and the band came out. From right-to-left were steel guitar player Jon Graboff, guitarist Neal Casal, bass player Chris Feinstein, Ryan's long-time drummer Brad Pemberton, and then the man himself.

Adams walked on stage and politely acknowledged the crowd. And I don't know what it was about that one minute before they launched into that first song, but any trepidation and anxiety of the unknown I had was gone. Just completely gone. There was this vibe on-stage that instantly told me this show was going to be something special. The first song confirmed it.

Usually an encore, "I See Monsters" is one of my favorite Ryan tunes and as he fiddled with his guitar upon taking the stage, I could vaguely make out the opening guitar lick and then it hit me that they were opening the show with it. My jaw dropped, since this seems like a song that needs to be led up to, not one to kick off a show. But I stood, attentive, excited to hear it nonetheless.

Another thing to add at this point is that Ryan and the Cardinals are so fucking good that their live versions almost always blow away the studio versions of the songs. And that is the frustrating dichotomy of Adams. He's an outstanding performer and guitarist. He's almost savant-like in his ability to write a song. And when I say a "song", I mean a SONG. A good one. Anyone can write a song. I can write a fucking song. But I marvel at Adams' ability to produce both quality and quantity on a consistent basis. And, on top of it all, the Cardinals are an amazing, amazing band. They should slay every single night. Back to the song thing for a second, music critics will argue this point, but Ryan has like a handful of bad songs. Out of hundreds. And he knows what the bad ones are and he doesn't play them. Critics will argue that his bad songs are more numerous. And that's why music critics can kiss my ass.

OK, so "I See Monsters". Just an incredible, incredible song and performance. If you are interested in it, watch this video and watch it all the way to the end. Note that this is not from the show I saw, but from a different performance.

Impressive? The version on Saturday night even kicked the ever-loving shit out of this video version which kicks the ever-loving shit out of almost everything. It was a near-religious experience for me and quickly became one of the best live songs of any artist I have ever seen.

The set continued with a few songs from Cardinology, "Everybody Knows" and "Fix It", which translated so well live that I gained a much greater appreciation for the record as a whole after the show.

During these songs, Ryan experienced some minor guitar trouble, but it amounted to nothing more than a quick look offstage and he was undeterred. This was definitely the Ryan Adams that everyone loves watching. His mood was great, he seemed happy, he was joking with the band, and it translated into a performance that won't easily be forgotten and for all the right reasons.

At this point, I would be horribly remiss if I didn't mention the Cardinals collectively and individually as a band, since the show was billed as such. But if this show was any indication of what The Cardinals are, they are easily among the best live performers (along with Wilco, the Raconteurs, and My Morning Jacket) out there today. The glue that held a lot of it together was the very underrated Neal Casal. He played lead guitar on about 75% of the tunes and managed some unbelievable falsetto harmonies. His voice, along with Adams', were two pieces of a puzzle that fit perfectly together and it's impossible to imagine the band pulling these songs off as well without Casal's contributions.

Graboff's steel guitar accents were always tastefully noticeable and really filled out the sound perfectly. Feinstein's bass was also excellently worked into the tremendous mix and his background vocals, along with the rest of the band's, made it sound like many more were providing their voices to the tunes. Pemberton, simply, was rock solid, as always. This really is one tight and ferocious wall of sound, capable of rocking your socks off with as much ease as they are able to slow everything down to near-silence, before all reconciling again in enrapturing bliss.

This was most evident on the extended, groove-laden jam of "Easy Plateau", which slowed down to a brief a capella section, featuring all five voices, before coming back together with all instruments to perfectly complete the jam.

Other highlights are too many to mention, but include a heart-wrenchingly beautiful cover of Oasis' "Wonderwall", a transcendent "Goodnight Rose" (from Adams' Easy Tiger release), and the dual-personality of "Peaceful Valley" (another personal favorite), which started off as a slowish dirge and ended with a sonic fury before segueing into the the footstomp that is "Beautiful Sorta".

Further emphasizing the fact that this truly is a "band" of which Adams is merely a part was the inclusion of two Neal Casal tunes, "Grand Island" and "Freeway To The Canyon", which showcased Casal's lead vocals and songwriting skills. Adams was relegated to backing vocals and the two songs didn't sound out of place in the set at all.

More fun was had with Ryan relating a story of a burrito that talked to him while he was tripping on tea he made with mushrooms and the spontaneous, minute-long tunes about each individual member of the band, that kicked off when Adams introduced that member to the adoring crowd.

The show wound down with the gloriously atmospheric Tim McGraw cover (kidding!), "When The Stars Go Blue", which then led to my favorite track from Cardinology, the unabashed power pop of "Magick" and then "Oh My Sweet Carolina", which brought it all back down in heartbreaking balladry. The penultimate "Born Into A Light" was beautiful, if not criminally short and the entire evening culminated in an emotionally-charged cover of Alice In Chains' "Down In A Hole".

And with that, it was all over. It was rocking and pensive, fun, exciting, and genuine. It was quite a show. I haven't seen many like it, by any artist.

All in all, the band played for about two and a quarter hours and I would have been thrilled if they played for hours more. Inevitably, with a song catalogue like Adams', there were songs I wanted to hear, but didn't. But that is an indictment more of just how many brilliant tunes he has than it is any disappointment in the setlist, because I had absolutely NONE of that.

In addition to the performance being top-notch, one of the things that enhanced it all the more was Adams' happy demeanor. Sounds corny, because who am I to say this, but we collectively said almost instantly after the show was over, "Man, it was so great to see him like this." When he is on, and he was fucking ON, there are few, if any, bands that can come close to touching the Cardinals as a collective.

I sincerely hope Adams' threats of abandoning music are false. Because as much as I think the Cardinals need Ryan, Ryan also needs them. This incredibly talented group play off each other so well, it would be disheartening if this was their swan song.

We exited the theatre and to our left were the tour buses. I saw Pemberton outside the bus giving out a hug to someone. I did a quick scan for Ryan and ever-so-briefly entertained the idea of waiting around. But I quickly put my head down and walked down the alley to main street, never even looking back at the bus. I wasn't about to let anything happen that would lessen the brilliance of this night one iota. Ryan's still on that mental list of mine and, if he stays there for eternity, so be it.

The setlist, if you are into that sort of thing:

I See Monsters

Everybody Knows

Fix It

Let It Ride


Easy Plateau

A Kiss Before I Go


Come Pick Me Up

Peaceful Valley

Beautiful Sorta

Freeway To The Canyon

Goodnight Rose

Grand Island

Shakedown On 9th Street

The Rescue Blues

Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.

When The Stars Go Blue


Oh My Sweet Carolina

Off Broadway

Born Into The Light

Down In A Hole

And if you want to hear the show (trust me, you do), head over to here and download or stream it. Many thanks to the taper, vanark, for sharing. It sounds awesome.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dim's Favorite Discs of 2008, Part 2 (The Top 10)

10. Cardinology - Ryan Adams & The Cardinals (Lost Highway)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now:
Magick, Born Into A Light, Stop

What could very well be Adams' swansong, at least for a little while (he recently has commented on a sabbatical from music), Cardinology is a perfect synopsis of Adams' prolific career. You have the alt-country standards, the delicate piano ballad, and the bratty, unabashed pop. What you also have, inexplicably, is Ryan near-fatally overdosing on vibrato and falsetto in his vocals. But that doesn't even come close to dragging down Cardinology. If this is, in fact, the end, it is sad because the Cardinals have become a truly amazing backing band and one that has pushed Adams even further in his musicianship and songwriting. And Cardinology reflects that symbiotic relationship perfectly.
Previous list appearances: Cold Roses (#6 in 2005), Jacksonville City Nights (#11 in 2005)
Listen at Myspace

9. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: Blue Ridge Mountains, White Winter Hymnal, He Doesn't Know Why

Back in the 70s an enigmatic group called Klaatu put out a record that sounded very Beatle-esque. There was pretty much nothing known about this group publicly, including their names. People thought it was the Beatles actually recording under a different name. It wasn't. That said, I swear this record is actually an older, unearthed My Morning Jacket record. And that is not a criticism. While I don't find Fleet Foxes particularly inventive or groundbreaking, this release is undeniably beautiful and impressive, even if it sounds like others out there. The textured background vocals add a level of brightness to the fun sounding songs and some spookiness to the heavier-themed numbers. While this is largely a mellow affair, it never becomes boring. Original? No. Still a really great listen? Yes.

Listen at Myspace

8. Fate - Dr. Dog (Park the Van Records)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: The Breeze, 100 Years, My Friend

I think the reason why I like this disc so much is because I can't quite put my finger on what it is about this band I like so much. Almost every piece of press categorizes them as a modern psychedelic rock collage of the Beatles, the Band, and the Beach Boys. And those sounds can all definitely be heard here, but the group does have originality and I think that's what makes the disc special. There are some vague blues numbers, piano-driven tunes, and over-the-top orchestrations with horns, strings, and mandolins. In this day of the "shuffle brain" of which I am admittedly afflicted, it is refreshing to be able to play a disc from beginning to end and enjoy each, strange step along the way as you are apt to do with Fate.

Listen at Myspace

7. Attack & Release - the Black Keys (Nonesuch)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: Strange Times, All You Ever Wanted, Psychotic Girl

One criticism of this low-fi bluesy garage rock duo was that all their songs sound the same. And while there are still elements of that fuzzed out sound on Attack & Release, the Black Keys have forged ahead with an incredibly dynamic that even utilizes seldom-heard instruments in their catalog, like banjos and flutes. The result is one that shows that this band is far from a one-trick pony. The key is always Dan Auerbach and his amazing guitar work and his soulful, blues-drenched vocals. While Black Keys purists might shudder at the growth here, it's undoubtedly the Keys' most versatile and pleasing effort.

Previous list appearances: Magic Potion (#22 in 2006)

Listen at Myspace

6. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Anti)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: Jesus Of The Moon, Today's Lesson, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

The latest from Cave and the boys seems to have a little more in common with Cave's side-project, Grinderman, than with recent Bad Seeds offerings and that's not a bad thing. A lot of the music is fuzzed-out rock with Cave providing every brilliant narrative in his own, unique slyly evil style. There's even a dirty feel to the softer tunes here, which speaks volumes to the music mood created. And Cave puts as much energy into his lyric-writing as he does the music, which translates to this being one of the better lyrical Cave discs in memory. There's not a lot of radio-friendly material here, but anyone familiar with what Cave and the Seeds can do won't care as this is as strong an studio offering as any since Let Love In.

Previous list appearances: No More Shall We Part (#16 in 2001), Nocturama (#12 in 2003), Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus (#11 in 2004)

Listen at Myspace

5. Evil Urges - My Morning Jacket (Ato Records)Put these three songs on your iPod right now: I'm Amazed, Evil Urges, Remnants

I won't go as far as to say this record approaches the flawlessness of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but I will say that My Morning Jacket appears to be on the same growth arc as that band. MMJ just keeps getting better and singer Jim James further refines his underrated vocals. Gone, thankfully, is the reverb-drenched sound in favor of one more crisp and while the band doesn't really rock out too much on Evil Urges, the cool funky grooves more than make up for it. This is definitely a band on the upswing and I wouldn't be surprised if their next offering supersedes this one. And just a sidenote, "I'm Amazed" is probably my favorite single of the year by any band.

Previous list appearances: It Still Moves (#16 in 2003), Z (#9 in 2005)

Listen at Myspace

4. Accelerate - R.E.M. (Warner Bros.)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: Living Well Is The Best Revenge, Houston, Supernatural Superserious

Simply put, this is the best R.E.M. offering in over 15 years. Think about that for a minute. I am amazed at the consistency here...each song is excellent in its own way. Peter Buck's playing is reinvigorated. Michael Stipe's vocals are strong. Mike Mills' bass and background vocals are better than ever. The album RAWKS. And there are the standard couple of ballads as well, each of which beats the ever-loving hell out of "Everybody Hurts". Accelerate is an impressive triumph and worthy of many repeated listens, each one offering a bit more of a reward than the last. As someone who has lost a little faith in the Athens, GA band over the years (save for Reveal, which I actually liked), the music here isn't the only thing that is reinvigorated. My interest in the band is as well.

Previous list appearances: Reveal (#12 in 2001)

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3. Furr - Blitzen Trapper (Sub Pop)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: Sleepytime in the Western World, Furr, Five and Fast Bullets

Usually, when I get a disc right before I make my list, I regrettably have to leave it off because I need more time with it before I can properly evaluate its place in the pantheon of my music collection. Not so with this one. Imagine if the Beatles, Wilco, the Minus 5, and the Jayhawks got together and decided to make a psychedelic folky roots rock Americana alt-country record. And that record kicked ass. Voila. You have Furr. There are creepy murderous acoustic numbers, tunes that sound like there are a million instruments being played, and rocking bits as well. Each song benefits from the band's outstanding musicianship, attentiveness to the concept of "the song", and embracing of pop sensibilities. Pretty sure that fans of all music will find at least one song on here they dig.

Listen at Myspace

2. Saturnalia - the Gutter Twins (Sub Pop)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: Circle the Fringes, The Stations, All Misery/Flowers

While Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs, Twilight Singers) and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) have often appeared on each other's albums, they never made an entire one together. Let's hope this is the first of many. The debut album of this supergroup of sorts is a dirty, humid, whiskey- and cigarette-fueled alterna-rock disc that you would expect to hear blaring out of some dark-windowed bar in the heat-soaked New Orleans summer. And while the sinister vocals of Lanegan meld fantastically with the gravelly Dulli, this is a full band effort and the musicians here weave an amazing musical tapestry.

Listen at Myspace

1. Consolers of the Lonely - the Raconteurs (Warner Bros.)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: These Stones Will Shout, Many Shades of Black, Top Yourself

Add the smoothness of Brendan Benson to Jack White's edge and mix it up with one of rock's greatest rhythm sections (Patrick Keeler and Jack Lawrence) and you get a tremendous record. You get some garage grunge, countrified Americana rock, and even a horn-infused epic ("The Switch and the Spur"). There's something for everyone on Consolers of the Lonely, but most importantly, this quartet has mastered having the whole living up to the sum of their amazing individual parts. Putting equal emphasis on catchy melodies and impressive harmonies, the songwriting here is near-flawless.

Previous list appearances: Broken Boy Soldier (#2 in 2006)

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dim's Favorite Discs of 2008, Part 1 (#25-#11)

OK, yeah, so I know we are well into 2009, but if you couldn't tell, I'm a lazy no-writing bastard which is why it took me so long to get this list together. I won't make any deluded promises that these are the "best" discs of 2008. No, I won't. I'll merely say these are my favorites. So, don't blame me if you pick one up and you think it sucks. It probably just means you have shitty taste in music. It's OK.

25. Help Wanted - Eric Avery (Dangerbird)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: All Remote and No Control, Belly of an Insect, Song in the Silence (The Who Can Fly, Pt. 7)

A pleasant surprise, this solo effort from Jane's Addiction's original bass player is a richly-textured sonic exercise. While Avery's vocal stylings are limiting, the electronic-tinged rockers and the ambient, softer numbers make for a challenging, but rewarding listen.

Listen at MySpace

24. Voices - Able Baker Fox (Second Nature)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: Face On Fire, Stuttering, Dead Space

Probably the biggest shocker for me on the list. I was asked to review this disc for a now-defunct on-line music mag and found that I really dig this. It's got a bit of the DC post-punk sound to it and there are parts very reminiscent of Fugazi and Samiam, but the thing that really sets Voices apart is the great use of dual vocals and harmonies. It’s refreshing to hear a slightly discordant band so clearly and the vocals provide interesting melodies without sacrificing some of the gravel that is needed for this genre. If you want something smart, and sprawling with strong vocals that emote impressive melodies and harmonies, this is the disc for you.

Listen at MySpace

23. Knowle West Boy - Tricky (Domino)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: Slow, Past Mistake, School Gates

All offerings from 90s trip-hop pioneer Tricky after his first release, Maxinquaye, have been hit-or-miss affairs. And while his latest doesn't approach the perfection of that debut, it does represent some of Tricky's strongest work in awhile. The beats range from the subtle and sublime to driving and heavy. As usual, there are guest vocalists abound and while the heavy rasta parts might take a little getting used to, Tricky's expert use of getting the right female voices for his songs is more than evident. As one of the few that actually liked 2003's Vulnerable, Knowle West Boy certainly picks up where that one left off and, wouldn't you know it, Tricky's on a bit of a hot streak.

Previous list appearances: Angels With Dirty Faces (#14 in 1998), Vulnerable (#8 in 2003)

22. Sunshine Lies - Matthew Sweet (Shout Factory)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: Flying, Sunrise Eyes, Let's Love

While admittedly not as consistent as 1991's seminal masterpiece, Girlfriend, Sweet does a welcomed return to form here. Expect more of the textbook Sweet sound: raucous power pop, searing Richard Lloyd guitar leads, and lavish ballads as he culls his most consistent effort in years. If possible, try to pick up the deluxe edition which has even more audio goodness. Oh, I triple dog dare you to try to get the "Flying"'s guitar riff out of your head once you hear it. Go on. Try.

Previous list appearances: In Reverse (#1 in 1999), Kimi Ga Suki (#6 in 2003)

21. The Secret Machines - The Secret Machines (Tsm Recordings)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: Atomic Heels, Underneath the Concrete, The Fire is Waiting

More big sounds from these transplanted Texans. With two full-lengths under their belts, the Secret Machines go the eponymous route with their third and the results and along the lines of what you would come to expect: some heavy, plodding tunes, some pensive balladry, and some extended psychedelic rock. The band takes the listener on a Floydian excursion, culminating with the epic in sound and length closer, "The Fire is Waiting". While there are elements of prog-rock here, TSM won't be confused with Yes anytime soon. They are far more brooding and moody. Still, a very strong and consistent release.

Previous list appearances: Now Here Is Nowhere (#12 in 2004), Ten Silver Drops (#18 in 2006)

20. O My Heart - Mother Mother (Last Gang)

Put these songs on your iPod right now: Ghosting, O My Heart, Hayloft
Canada's own Mother Mother are really starting to assert themselves as real players in the quirky indie rock genre. Sounding a little like a less-abrasive Modest Mouse, thanks primary to dual gender vocals from brother and sister Ryan and Molly Guldemond, O My Heart is an enjoyable romp, with some real toe-tapping pop numbers as well as some tunes with interesting enough arrangements to really cause you to sit up and take notice. This release might not hit you on the first listen, but spending time with it only causes it to be more and more rewarding.

Listen at MySpace

19. Red Of Tooth And Claw - Murder By Death (Vagrant)

Put these songs on your iPod right now: Coming Home, Fuego!, A Second Opinion

The latest from this hard-to-categorize Indiana quartet offers more of the same shantyish, murderously evil tales of the devil, whiskey, and a protagonist whose motives are a little cloudy. Adam Turla continues to channel both Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley with a baritone that sounds older than his years. The rest of the band is very tight musically and while the particular narrative of this offering is a little looser than my personal Murder By Death favorite, Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them, it still offers more in the way of a story than most bands do these days. And when taking a listen, be sure to keep an ear out for Sarah Balliet's sublimely wonderful cello-accents; definitely something that sets the band apart from others.

Previous list appearances: In Bocca al Lupo (#4 in 2006)

Listen at MySpace

18. Third - Portishead (Mercury)

Put these songs on your iPod right now: Silence, Machine Gun, Nylon Smile

Wow, has it really been 11 years since the last studio release? Portishead picks up where they left off, basically schooling everyone in the genre of electronica/trip-hop and showing all imitators how it is done. This is not an easy listening record. Some of the sounds are abrasive. Beth Gibbons' ghostly wail can be challenging on the ears at times. But that is the beauty of Portishead. They push to the limit and always seem to produce wonderful noise that is not for everyone. The samples and programs are impeccably integral to the sound, as is the omni-present Gibbons. A welcomed return.

Previous list appearances: Portishead (#4 in 1997)

17. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (Xl Recordings)

Put these songs on your iPod right now: Oxford Comma, Mansard Roof, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa

This band has had more buzz surrounding it than a fucking apiary and, from what I can discern, it is largely because they sound pretty much like no other band out there, unless the Strokes decided that they were way too overproduced, had way too much guitar, and had way too little in the way of strings and African music influence. I dig what I hear here and I’m not sure why. It’s different. It might take awhile to get into. But it’s true to itself and unapologetic indie/reggae/classical/Afro pop. And it doesn’t suck. That counts for something.

16. Some People Have Real Problems - Sia (Hear Music)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: Beautiful Calm Driving, Buttons, Soon We'll Be Found

Zero 7's Sia Furler has such a unique sounding voice that it is often polarizing. Some love it, some not so much. I fall in with the former and her latest offering provides her unique and immediately recognizable vocals with some outstanding musical orchestration. While most of the album, and the strongest parts, are slow burners with Furler's sometimes soulful, sometimes airy vocals taking center stage, she also surprises with some unabashed pop which she performs with equal ease and success. While Sia's sound may take some warming up to, once you do, it's apparent she is currently one of modern rock's most underrated voices; one that you can't help but take notice of.

Previous list appearances: Colour the Small One (#17 in 2006)

15. Sunday at Devil Dirt - Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan (V2)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: Come On Over (Turn Me On), Seafaring Song, Who Built The Road

A magazine reviewed this duet's 2006 release as Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf make a record and Sunday at Devil Dirt certainly perpetuates that idea. Lanegan's deep vocals are off-set gorgeously by Campbell's fragile, ethereal sound. The music here has a ghostly quality to it as well: well-placed bells and strings certainly set the musical mood. This is pretty mellow stuff, but mellow stuff with substance.

Previous list appearances: Ballad of the Broken Seas (#5 in 2006)

Listen at MySpace

14. Lie Down in the Light - Bonnie "Prince" Billy (Drag City)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: You Want That Picture, Lie Down in the Light, Other's Gain

The fragile and fractured acoustic folky rock of Bonnie "Prince" Billy returns with a shockingly bright offering. The instrumentation here is excellent: Billy's omnipresent acoustic guitar is augmented by piano, slide guitar, and some lavish background vocals. Lie Down in the Light certainly exposes Billy as a songwriter extraordinaire also shows that he doesn't just write dark, sullen tunes.

Previous list appearances: The Letting Go (#9 in 2006)

13. The Renaissance - Q-Tip (Universal Motown)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: Shaka, WeFight/WeLove, Life is Better

The former leader of A Tribe Called Quest continues where the band left off, with mature, groove- and jazz-oriented hip hop. If you are looking for gangstas and ho's, move along, but if you want to explore the true beauty and poetry of rap, along with remarkable music, experience The Renaissance.

Listen at MySpace

12. Langhorne Slim - Langhorne Slim (Kemado)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: The Rebel Side Of Heaven, Hummingbird, Restless

The Pennsylvania native, now based out of New York, has always been a bit of an acquired taste and his latest, self-titled effort is no different. But from jangly acoustic stomps that get your leg bouncing to poignant and thoughtful ballads, Slim meticulously constructs a rather brief effort that is both fun and heartbreaking.

Listen at MySpace

11. Death Magnetic - Metallica (Warner Bros.)

Put these three songs on your iPod right now: The Judas Kiss, All Nightmare Long, The Day That Never Came

That's right. I'm not too proud to put a Metallica disc on this list. While saying this is their most solid effort since ...And Justice for All might be damning with faint praise, the truth of the matter is that this is heavy, fast, and groovy. Just how I like my hard rock. Fine, James Hetfield's lyrics will probably cause your eyes to roll, but the dual-guitar attack and the epic layout of the songs certainly overcome any lyrical flaws (that appear on almost every Metallica album anyway). Glad I gave this band one more chance, because they certainly redeemed themselves for their questionable last few studio releases with Death Magnetic.

Previous list appearances: Reload (#15 in 1997) <= What the hell was I thinking? Reload was HORRIBLE!

Listen at MySpace

Coming soon...the top 10.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Concert-Going for Dummies, Part 2

Over three years ago, I wrote this pleasant piece. It was aimed at my fellow concert-going brethren and its purpose was to create an educational manual if you will that would allow all of us to enjoy the concert-going experience more. I would enjoy said experience more because I wouldn't have to put up with the annoying assholes and the annoying assholes would enjoy the experience more because they would cease being annoying assholes and, because of this, wouldn't have to be killed by me, pretty much ruining any future show for the both of us.

But people really don't listen.

So, while I link to the above blog entry and implore you to read it, absorb it, embrace it, and make it part of your daily lifestyle, I'm going to give you a couple of other helpful hints now in the sincere hopes that these hints will one day save you from having your neck wrung by me. I wish I was exaggerating.

Here's one for the staff at the venue:

Put away the indelible marker and Houdini-esque bracelets.

Last night we went to see this band. It's bad enough that we were herded into the venue and had orders barked at us (stay to the right! ID in your left hand! Tickets in the right!) with all the warmth and compassion of a Nazi SS officer, but once in the venue we were immediately and permanently branded.

Old bastards like myself were given the "all clear" to drink overpriced beer with a flimsy-looking adhesive bracelet that was put on my "RIGHT WRIST!" (or so he barked) by our friendly host. Don't let the description of this bracelet fool you. While it looks like it is made out of the same stuff that lines the examination tables at your local doctor's office, it is actually made out of the strongest substance ever known to man. To take this off at the end of the night, you need a blow torch, garden shears, and kryptonite. And, because our doorman ogre doesn't exactly score well in the "Pays close attention to detail" part of his annual performance review, he invariably attaches the adhesive part a little askew so a small part of this adhesive from hell sticks to the hair on my "RIGHT WRIST!" Removing this at the end of the night involves screams of absolute torture as this Martian glue proceeds to rip two layers of skin off my "RIGHT WRIST!" It's hard to really enjoy a concert in retrospect when you are pouring Bactine directly into your hypodermis.

Those less fortunate to be born after 1987 had the tops of both hands tattooed with enormous black x's that looked like they were put on with a paint roller. This is the subtle hint to the bartenders that those with the mark of the beast are unable to drink. The lack of subtlety comes with this Nathanial Hawthorne-esque permanence of The Opaque X. For, in order to remove it once the concert is over, one needs turpentine, lye, and a sandblaster.

Now, I'm not one to encourage underage drinking at all, but let's be serious. What could possibly do more damage? Exposing a minor to paint remover, caustic soda, and heavy machinery or allowing them to pound a Pabst Blue Ribbon? Which brings me to my next point.

Don't drink shitty beers. In case you were wondering, this category includes, and is headed by, Pabst Blue Ribbon or "PBR" according to the hipsters. Actually, let me amend this. It's not that you can't drink shitty beers, but don't be proud of drinking shitty beers. These new, young members of the alcohol drinking public confidently strut up to the bar, lean in and say with the pride of a boasting parent, "PBR!" as if a hush should fall over the entire crowd while everyone looks at the bar patron, gives him forceful nod of acceptance, and then raises their cans of equally shitty beers to pledge their allegiance to the USA (Useless Swill of Alcohol).

So, this dumb kid slaps down three clams and then emerges from the bar crowd holding a can of PBR the size of Rocky Dennis' head like it was the fucking Stanley Cup.

Look man, I know you would rather put the money mommy and daddy gave you toward a new shirt from Abercrombie that is about two sizes too small for you and would actually even look tight on Karen Carpenter, but maybe you should put it toward drinking slightly better beer instead.
Remember this video? It's funny to watch the monkey. It's not funny to be the monkey. You are the monkey.

Speaking of fashion, I really have to address the people who just try too damn hard to look weird. I realize these kids just moved out of their parents' house and are on their own for the first time and want to look like idiots, but what became of subtlety? First of all, Corey Hart, it's 11:30 at night in a basement venue where I can't see my hand in front of my face. Unless you are Stevie Wonder or an albino, take the fucking shades off.

And the facial hair. Look, I'm probably not one to talk about this given my history of really long sideburns, soul patches, chin pubes, and even a fucking handlebar mustache, but those things looked fantastic on me. I'm talking about the dummies that cultivate facial hair that looks like a cross between a Civil War general and Chewbacca. What exactly are you trying to say with that?

Tattoos. Does everyone have them now? I don't, but it certainly seems like I am now in a minority. I don't mind someone having a little ink, but I wonder how our leather-clad friend with the neck tat is going to feel when he is 70 and his gobbler is hanging lower than a Thanksgiving turkey's. That's gonna look sweet.

And the piercings. Good lord. I'll forgo talking about the lips, nose, septum, eyebrow, mustache area, and naughty parts. I'm talking about those people who put the massively huge things in their ears that stretch their lobes out like Elastic Man. I saw one dude last night that had holes in his lobes, stretched out with hoops, that were about three inches in diameter. So, if you were looking at his lobes straight on, you could see the person standing behind him. I didn't know whether to go up to him and pat him on the back or grab hold of each hoop, do a gymnastic routine, and dismount on his face.

Lighters. Come on. 1983 called and they want their REO Speedwagon concert back. The only time you should bust out a lighter during a concert is after you have doused yourself with gasoline after you have realized what a horrible concert-goer you really are.

Stop taking pictures with your crappy cell phone. OK, I am dating myself, but my first cell phone came in a piece of Samsonite luggage. I had to charge it by hooking it up to the nearest nuclear power plant and needed to wear a hat with a giant satellite dish on it just to get reception. But guess what? It worked. It made phone calls. Which is what a phone is supposed to do. Phone. Phone calls. But these dummies hold up their Razrs 200 feet away from the stage and snap a pic and then shake their heads disparagingly upon inspection of their photographic genius to find out that the band are the size of Lilliputians. You know why your pictures suck? Because you are using your phone!

Which brings me to the thing I am sure will cause the end of civilization: texting. Stop fucking texting during the show! "im @ the show OMG theyre playing LOL r u comin latr rotfl" Here's a keyboard shortcut for you: FU. Maybe I am just jealous because it is impossible for me to efficiently text because my cell phone doesn't have a keyboard, it just has the regular number touchpad. So, what happens is I want to start a word that begins with "r". I need to hit the "7" three times. My thumb spazzes and I hit it four times. I get an "s". I don't want an "s". I get flustered and wait too long (which I have timed as about three nanoseconds) and the cursor moves which confuses me so I hit the "7" again and now I have "ss" when I want an "r" and I then confuse the back button with what is apparently an unlabeled "save this text abomination as a draft" button, so instead of clearing "ss", I have now saved it in my draft messages for posterity. I leave my "ss" message in my draft folder to not only gaze upon it in admiration of my texting prowess but also because I never know when someone is going to be on that "Millionaire" show and need a lifeline and I get a text saying, "Dim. 20 seconds. What was the name of the boat from 'Gilligan's Island'?" If I have that draft "ss" message all set to go, I have a head start on the answer. Take THAT Meredith Viera!

Finally, I feel the need to repeat something from the first Concert-Going for Dummies that seems to have gone unheeded. I can't put this anymore simply than this:


The Fuck


Use this rule: The only time you should speaking at a concert is if, while you were out for a butt, a UFO landed right in front of you and out came Jesus Christ, Elvis, and Sasquatch and they gave you a formula for eternal life for all of humanity. And even then, shut you pie hole until the house lights come up and the crappy techno music plays, lest I spackle your yap closed forever.

Besides, why would you want to talk to someone next to you when you can just text them with your camera that occasionally receives phone calls!

Man, I'm getting old.

- Dim.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


Just me... was nice enough to tag me, which I actually do appreciate just so I can get my ass writing again! Honestly, I am currently working on my top CDs of 2008 a la March, so that's taken up some time. Once that is done, I hope to have some sort of semi-regular update here, since something wacky is always going on in Dim City.

So, here is 25 random things about me. And I've covered some of these things before in this here blog, so feel free to dig around in the archives if you are interested in knowing even MORE about Dim.

  1. I currently have 12,144 songs on my iPod.
  2. I am an only child.
  3. I was once appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine. Proof.
  4. The two most commented on blog entries in the history of Dim City were my rant on MySpace and my rant on Rachael Ray.
  5. I collect editions of Animal Farm by George Orwell.
  6. I am currently extremely unhappy about my weight. I had a picture taken of me last night and I looked like a house. Let's hope the camera phone puts on about 40 pounds.
  7. I got married at age 33.
  8. We are about to celebrate our second year in our house and I really, really love it. But I am worried that we might outgrow it and that bothers me.
  9. My two current TV show crushes are Yvonne Strahovski from "Chuck" and Connie Britton from "Friday Night Lights".
  10. The above is OK to admit, because my wife told me she had a dream about Taylor Kitsch and I see how she looks at Zachary Levi!
  11. I graduated from a Catholic high school and a Catholic college, but am not a terribly obedient Catholic, though there are aspects of that religion I whole-heartedly believe in.
  12. My degree is in Criminal Justice, with a minor in Psychology and my job has nothing to do with either.
  13. Our house currently holds 2 acoustic/electric guitars, 2 electric guitars, a bass guitar, a mandolin, a ukelele, an electric piano, and a violin. And a musical Egg.
  14. I once broke a chair allegedly belonging to Henry Kissinger on New Year's Eve.
  15. I love to cook and probably make the best eggplant parm you've ever had.
  16. I once grew my hair long and donated it to Locks of Love. I'm growing it out again, but there's a little more grey in it this time and I don't think they'll want it unless some poor kid really wants to look like Taylor Hicks. Kudos to my darling wife who has done this TWICE.
  17. I once grew an OUTRAGEOUS handlebar mustache!
  18. My wife and I enjoy playing open mics, but we've regrettably not done one in over two years.
  19. I am strangely very stoked about the new Watchmen movie and loved the book despite not being a comic book or graphic novel fan.
  20. My wife and I cut our wedding cake to "Hesitating Beauty" by Billy Bragg and Wilco and had our first dance to Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me" (though Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You" was my first choice).
  21. I own far too many CDs and DVDs.
  22. I have a thing for redheads (luckily, my wife is one, so it's OK!)
  23. I hate hate hate supernatural horror movies and refuse to watch them. The only exception being The Others, which was far more suspense and thriller than horror.
  24. I am a total hypochondriac (undiagnosed!)
  25. I had a bitch of a time coming up with 25 random things about me.

I tag anyone who actually still reads this blog! (crickets chirping...)

- Dim.
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